Big Mouth: Play your cards right

This article first appeared in issue 240 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

It’s safe to say that, for all its many joys, the internet also excels at doing things that aren’t particularly great for the wider world. It’s fantastic at making retail workers redundant. It’s great at moving the money out of individual countries and into the tax-avoiding coffers of American corporations. It’s given us spam, malware, unfunny Twitter parodies and Jeff Jarvis.

Worst of all, the internet has helped foster a particularly whiny culture of entitlement in which apparently intelligent, well-educated people feel that it’s all right to act like spoilt little children whenever they don’t get their way. Boo-hoo! A website I pay nothing for has embarked on a redesign of which I do not approve! Waaaaah! A TV programme from the other side of the planet isn’t available for purchase at my preferred price the moment it is broadcast!

You get the idea.

I thought I was desensitised to it – but apparently not, because I’m currently coining new and exciting swearwords to describe the ReviewerCard. The ReviewerCard is a $100 piece of black plastic that says: “I write reviews.” The idea is simple – when you visit a business, such as a restaurant, you show them your card to indicate that you are a prolific internet reviewer. They will then give you the best possible product or service or discount, terrified you’ll be nasty about them on TripAdvisor, or Yelp, or whichever particular service you intend to use to damage that business if it doesn’t treat you extremely nicely.

This, I believe, is called progress: why not replace professional, ethical reviewers with shakedown artists? With ReviewerCard, the threat is clear, and it’s a complete reversal of what reviews are supposed to be for.

Companies spend a great deal of money trying to make us buy their products and services, and sometimes those products and services are the emperor’s new clothes. A reviewer’s job is to point that out.

What the ReviewerCard suggests, though, is complicity: it implies that if you treat me right, a bad review will become a good one.

We have words for that, of course. ‘Corruption’, perhaps, or ‘extortion’. Or, perhaps, ‘business as usual’. Because everyone’s at it.

We have big-name novelists boasting openly about paying for hundreds and even thousands of positive reviews. We have businesses creating sock-puppets to boost their own reputations or destroy their rivals’, apps appearing with dozens of five-star reviews on the day they’re released (and others drowning under hundreds of one-star reviews that say: “Yes, this app does indeed cure cancer, but charging 79p for it is an outrage”), fanboys reviewing things that don’t exist and people who don’t exist reviewing things that do.

It’s probably too late to stop all these ills in their tracks, but we can stop the ReviewerCard. All we need to do is agree that whenever we see one, we’ll make it a teaching moment. Designers will double their day rates. Hoteliers will claim maximum occupancy. Waiters will teabag the toast.

Together, we can make the world a better place. If only slightly.

Photography: Iain MacLean

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